Some games stick with you due to their complexity, their graphical finesse, their atmosphere or the sense of joy completing them brings. One of my all-time favourite games, however, is something that was ridiculous when I first played it and is even more so now.
That game is Bazooka Bill!
Created for the Commodore 64 in 1985, it came from the great Melbourne House who were responsible for such classics as the 1982 text adventure The Hobbit and one of the greatest fighting games ever made, The Way of The Exploding Fist, and was available via Mastertronic who released many games at the £1.99/£2.99 price point, which meant I could go to Woolwich Market every Saturday with my Mum and buy a new game!
Bazooka Bill was a side-scrolling combat game that featured the eponymous hero battling waves of bad guys to rescue real-life military figure General Douglas Macarthur. Hey, it was the ’80s. The cinemas were flooded with Rambo and action war movies galore and video games were no different!
Our hero Bill is a rough and tough green beret… or, at least, he wears a beret. This could just be a Frank Spencer fever dream on home computer now that I think about it. Although, as far as I’m aware, there wasn’t a level where Bill wore roller skates and clung to the back of a bus…
The game throws everything at the player. Across four chaotic levels Bazooka Bill face ninjas, foot soldiers, commandos, guard dogs, vicious islanders, boulders, helicopters and tanks.
The first level is set against a city background as Bill runs along punching enemies with his weirdly oversized fist. That’s right; for some reason, when he punches, Bill’s fist is the same size as his torso. All the better for smiting those pesky ninjas!
This hardy warrior only takes on the forces of evil with his bare hands? Don’t be ridiculous. You start with some good old fashioned American-as-apple-pie punching but can collect several different weapons to use. There are throwing knives, which can be whipped across the screen into the faces of the enemy. There is an Uzi submachine gun which, obviously, fires oversized bullets into the bad guys, and perhaps my favourite, there is a flame thrower! However, this game is called Bazooka Bill and what kind of insult would it be if Bill didn’t get to use one of those bad boys?! Oh yes, a bazooka comes into play too! BOOM! 1980’s!
Level two takes place at an airbase where at first Bill takes out some bad guys and then gets to take to the skies in his own fighter plane, taking down enemy helicopters and planes as he heads to the next level.
Level three sees our hero head to the bad guy’s island (if you’ve seen the Schwarzenegger film Commando you know what we’re talking about) because all evildoers require their own island! There are stereotypical island natives, with bones through their noses and spears (hey, it was the ’80s, that sort of thing was commonplace) and rolling boulders for our boy to avoid or simply punch into oblivion. Bill then heads to the skies once more, using his fighter jet to either avoid or destroy enemy vehicles.
The final level sees Bill head to another island for more punching, stabbing, shooting and exploding as the game reaches its crescendo. Dodging tanks, shooting everything in sight, Bill finally gets to the end of the game and rescues General Macarthur, who seems to be twice our hero’s height, and gets a manly “Thanks, son!” as a reward.
As I say, I loved this game.
It’s bright and colourful, with big sprites and full of over-the-top side-scrolling action, and has a banging soundtrack courtesy of Neil Brennan (who also did the music for the Judge Dredd video game, among others). Sure, the collision detection is sometimes way off and tanks often drive past Bill without any ill effects and bad guys are beaten without actually touching his magnificent fist of doom, but it was pure fun. Difficult, but not Ghosts N’ Goblins difficult, it was exactly what a VHS-watching action-movie loving kid needed as he grew up in the crazy ’80s!
It’s available on various retro gaming emulators online so check it out if you can!
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